Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

"Oh, I know animals suffer, but I love my steak": The self-serving resolution of the "meat paradox"

Many people continue to eat animals knowing they're consuming misery

There's no doubt that billions of factory-farmed and other animals suffer for our gustatory delights, most of which are unnecessary. Now, a new study shows just how far people will go so that they can continue to eat animals who needlessly wind up at the end of their fork. Steve Loughnan of Kent University in the UK and his colleagues discovered that "people who wish to escape the ‘meat paradox’ i.e. simultaneously disliking hurting animals and enjoying eating meat, may do so by denying that the animal they ate had the capacity to suffer."

While some people stop eating meat when they learn that animals suffer an overwhelming majority do not, and continue to enjoy their steaks knowing well that they're eating pain and misery. They simply deny moral status to the sentient beings who wind up on their plates as if all's just fine. This very important study shows "when there is a conflict between their preferred way of thinking and their preferred way of acting, it is their thoughts and moral standards that people abandon first – rather than changing their behaviour. ‘Rather than change their beliefs about the animals’ moral rights, people could change their behaviour,’ Loughnan said. ‘However, we suspect that most people are unwilling to deny themselves the enjoyment of eating meat, and denying animals moral rights lets them keep eating with a clear conscience’." I wonder just how clear they're conscience is. When I was writing my book The animal manifesto I continually talked with people who told me "Oh, I know animals suffer, but I love my steak." They went on to offer lame excuses such as "I just can't stop eating meat even when I think about the misery for which I'm responsible." Sure they can. It's so easy it's laughable to think that they not only deny sentience to the animals they consume but also deny that non-animal alternatives are readily available, even "fake meats." And it's also essential to remember that cows, pigs, and sheep who are unrelentingly tortured on their journey to and when they temporarily reside on factory farms are no less sentient than companion dogs or cats. Most people - likely all people - would not let their companion animals trade places with these most unfortunate beings. 

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

We always must remember it's not a matter of "what's" for dinner but "who's" for dinner as we routinely and wantonly slaughter sentience for unneeded meals to the tune of billions of animals per year. Surely we can do better and it's really easy for most of us to stop consuming pain and misery. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

more...

Subscribe to Animal Emotions

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.